When you're poor, every day is Christmas.
That's the way Joe Miller of Hilton Head Island sees it.
"Every day that God wakes you up is Christmas," he said.
"People just celebrate that particular day, but every day is Christmas if God gets you up and you're in your right mind and you're able to go about your daily occupation."
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On Thursday morning, Miller was prying sheets of tin off his roof and tossing them to the blackened ground below.
Once in August and on back-to-back days this month, suspicious fires have damaged Miller's home on Oakview Road, off Spanish Wells Road.
That has put a sour note in his own Christmas, and the community's as well. Miller's home has long been one of the most festive on the island this time of year. It's a dazzling oasis in a dessert of sameness, brightening an island that has more aesthetic restrictions than people.
At Miller's house, the spirit of Christmas springs through the humdrum, like a child's imagination on Christmas Eve.
When I visited him three Christmases ago, giant candy canes, red bows, antlers, outdoor Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, wreaths, angels, oversized presents and Santa Claus after Santa Claus, including one in dreadlocks, spilled from the rooftop, through the trees and out to the street.
Some decorations remain, because much of his house remains. But Miller can't live in it. A friend has put him up in a rental home that is on the market.
Miller said he can't explain the fires, which authorities suspect were set on purpose.
Some people say he set the fires himself to get charity at Christmas, Miller said. He said it's not true. "Why would I do that?" he asks. "I need my house."
He said others link the fires somehow to his sons. He said he's heard the theories but has no answers.
Miller is a 62-year-old retired handyman and construction worker who said he has built the home by hand from scrap materials, one room at a time, since 1971. The last fire destroyed the original portion, which had been a wooden community store he moved to his quarter-acre tract. The store was run by an aunt and uncle when this was a Gullah island. It served as the kitchen and a bedroom before it burned.
Now Miller is taking apart the burned portions of the house, filling a Dumpster provided by a men's Bible study group at Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. Miller said he's going to clear out the debris, then decide what to do next.
The piercing smell of charred wood is the mystery of Christmas this year at 74 Oakview Road.
A red and white sign for an arson hotline stands where candy canes belong.
But every day is Christmas.